ST. PETERSBURG — Showing off an ax handle from his grandfather’s woodyard, Mayor Ken Welch announced Wednesday that he would restart the redevelopment process for Tropicana Field.
Welch is a product of the Gas Plant neighborhood, a Black community that was paved over for the 86-acre site that became the ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays. As the city’s first Black mayor, he stood Wednesday next to where his family’s woodyard once was.
“This is just a reminder and tangible evidence that a thriving community once existed here just a few decades ago,” he said. “I think it’s providential that 40 years after a community was uprooted in the successful pursuit of baseball that we now have the opportunity to bring the promises of jobs, opportunity and equitable development on what I consider and what many in this community consider sacred land.”
Welch canceled the current request for proposals issued in July 2020 under former Mayor Rick Kriseman. He said that since then, the economic fallout of the pandemic and an affordable housing crisis “warrant a fresh look,” according to a city news release.
A new request for proposals will go out in four to six weeks specifically soliciting proposals that include a baseball stadium “to provide certainty on the stadium question” and where the Rays will play. The Rays are allowed to bid or partner on a proposal.
Welch is looking for proposals that make affordable housing a key component. The site also must honor the Gas Plant community “in an impactful and sustainable manner” and consider equitable access to all residents. That could include opportunities for education, youth, economic activity and recreation.
“We are also mindful of any city subsidy and will consider that in all proposals,” according to the city.
Welch said he didn’t believe all parts of the community were heard at the height of the pandemic two years ago. The city plans to hold community outreach events before and after the request for proposals is developed. The public also may submit comments online.
Welch said he plans to select a developer by the end of the year. The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field is up in 2027.
“We’ve got plenty of time,” he said.
Rays want to be in Tampa Bay
In an exclusive interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Rays President Brian Auld said he learned of the new request for proposals at Welch’s announcement Wednesday.
“We’re going to have to sit back and think about it,” he said.
Auld said the Rays have not given any input on what should happen, but they have talked about what’s important to the team — that they should come first. He said he trusts Welch’s steering of the process.
“We need a plan to build a new stadium that is going to allow ourselves to be a sustainable business going forward, a healthy business that’s going to drive attendance, that’s going to have a lot of liveliness around it, be part of a really vibrant area,” he said. “But ballparks are not getting any cheaper. These problems are not getting any easier to solve. And so the fact that everyone’s rolling up their sleeves right now and really getting aft er it is what needs to be happening.”
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‘All the best’
Kriseman spent his entire second term in office developing conceptual master plans and soliciting public comment through town hall meetings before narrowing down the developer finalists to Miami’s Midtown Development and Sugar Hill, a project by JMA Ventures out of San Francisco. With a little over a month left in his tenure, Kriseman chose Midtown with backing from the Pinellas County Urban League.
Welch made no promises to honor that pick. He traveled to Miami earlier this year to see Midtown’s work there and went more recently to Sacramento to visit JMA’s projects. He invited both developers to reapply for the new request for proposals.
Jordan Behar, an architect with Sugar Hill, said the group will have to see if the new request for proposals is a reapplication or a continuation.
“I think that the mayor is accurate and that the world is a different place,” he said. “Things have been progressing since this project has begun and we’re just happy to continue to try to be as responsive as we can.”
Midtown Development principal Alex Vadia thanked the St. Petersburg community and particularly Watson Haynes of the Urban League for their friendship. Welch turned down a request from Midtown for a meeting earlier this month.
“Midtown Development has been honored to spend the last few years working with our partners in the City of St. Petersburg on the Tropicana Field RFP,” Vadia said in a statement. “We wish Mayor Ken Welch and the residents of the City of St. Petersburg all the best in their future efforts to redevelop Tropicana Field.”